Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Please Be Kind (aka Adventures in Homelessness)

A couple. (Photo: Public Domain Pictures.net)

On my way to work last Friday, I stopped at a red light. Seated next to the sidewalk on my right, just outside a Jack in the Box restaurant, was a young homeless couple. He looked to be in his early twenties, with slightly dreadlocked blonde hair and a short, pointy beard and mustache. She was a pretty girl, possibly in her late teens or early twenties, wearing a fedora. They were eating, and not begging as might be expected, but it was obvious they had not bathed in a long time. My heart went out to them, and I sort of wished they had been begging, so I could offer them something... but I had nothing to give them, anyway.

The girl looked at me for just a second and then turned away. There's no way she could have known what I was thinking, so I knew she probably assumed I was looking down on them like many others would have.

As I drove off, I began thinking about this couple, about how hard their lives must be. I wondered why they were homeless. I was reminded of an experience I had during the summer of 1991, in Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA. I was visiting mu uncle's family in Southern California while I prepared to go on a mission for the LDS Church. In short order, I made friends with a neighbor guy who was also visiting from out of town. We'll call him B.P. He was from Omaha, Nebraska, and his father was a Lutheran pastor. We were both coming from a punk rock background, so we got along swimmingly.

We were on an Air Force base, out in the desert, so things got boring pretty quick. B.P. suggested that we take the long drive to L.A. and find something to do. I had never been, so I excitedly agreed. As we walked the streets of Hollywood, we wondered if there were any punk rock shows we could catch while we were there, and we asked the first guy with a mohawk we could find. His "name" was Irk. Irk's mohawk was purple, and twelve or so inches tall. He was panhandling, with his dog Bango, and was homeless. The particular band that would be playing that night allowed homeless people into their shows for free.

The show he would be attending was not for several hours, so he took us to his "squat" and introduced us to several of his friends. (A squat is basically any abandoned place where homeless people stay on a long- or short-term basis, with or without permission. This building was used with permission, I was told. Most squats tend to look like the building pictured below.) I was surprised to discover that this particular squat was right around the corner from the main Hollywood strip; there were Hollywood stars on the sidewalk right across the street.

An abandoned house. (Photo: Public Domain Pictures.net)

Although Irk was quite friendly, others took exception to the fact that he brought us into their refuge, and were standoffish at first, but most everyone eventually warmed up to us. Some of the others we met were Fhat Fhoot, Scooby and Scrappy, Christ and Crust, Grabby and May, and Satan. They ranged in age from around ten to the early twenties. We discovered that everyone was homeless for a reason - escaping abuse, mostly - and the street names were to hide their identities. This served two purposes: 1) to keep from being found by those you were running away from, and 2) to keep your friends from knowing who you were, so they couldn't inadvertently help the police find you.

Amy, Irk, B.P., and a few other homeless friends. Photo: the author.

I worried about all of our new homeless friends. Scrappy was the youngest. He was out with us until all hours of the night, and said that his parents didn't care where he was. I assume this was true, because he always came back, and never seemed worried about going home. (Scrappy was the only one who still technically had a home to go back to.) Grabby and May were cute teenage girls who made money by pretending to be underage prostitutes, taking the money and running, as they told me.

Because everyone was running away from something, and most were not old enough to legally get a job or live on their own, drugs and alcohol were rampant. It's a cliche', I know, but if you put yourself in their shoes you can understand the escapism. They truly were at a dead end.

B.P. and I came to visit several times that summer. We spent the night with them a few times, took everyone out for pizza, brought them blankets and candles and other things they could use, and learned all we could about their experience. We learned how to sneak uneaten food left on a plate at Denny's, and how how to make tomato soup with the free ketchup and hot water you could get there, if you couldn't find anything else. We learned that people ignore you when you panhandle, and shopkeepers call the police to make you leave. We learned that roving gangs of privileged kids seek out the homeless in order to rape them, beat them, and sometimes kill them. This made me worry about them even more.

There is a lot more to this story. I could tell you about the hollow bush that Grabby slept in in the park, until Satanists came to hold rituals there and forced her to participate. Or the homeless guy we accidentally scared away when we went to the park, who was sleeping curled up in the sand in the pit beneath a swing on the swingset, so he wouldn't be seen and harassed...

So, this is what I was thinking about when I saw that couple on the side of the road: the long days of being ignored and wondering where your next meal will come from; the long nights of wondering if you will have your personal space invaded, if you will have to run for your life, if you will live until the morning, or die at the hands of some prick who would kill you just for fun.

My point in writing this is really singular and simple: it is simply to ask that the next time you see a homeless person, you remember what you have read here. And be kind.

16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

 17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

 18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

 19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

 20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.

 21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.

 22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.

 23 I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.

 24 And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.

 25 And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received.
--Mosiah 4:16-25


  1. Thank you; thank you; thank you--

    I have a close loved one whose circumstances are such that he/she cannot come home (not because none of us want it) who is near homeless--

    it's breaking my heart all the time--

    Thank you--

    why don't 'mainstream' LDS 'get' this?

    There are so many gaps; there are so many cracks people can fall through, and not all of them are due to 'sin'--

    on the part of the people falling; sometimes it's due to sin on the part of others--


    Thank you--

    Bless you for writing this--

    1. Thank you for your comments! I didn't think anyone knew this blog was even here :)

      I think "mainstream LDS" just tend to pick up the world's attitudes, from movies, friends, TV, etc. But your own experience, and what I wrote about, all seem to show us the truth behind this phrase in the quote above:

      "Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery... But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent..."

      In general, we have NO idea what others are going through! I am no longer on Facebook, but I remember seeing a quote going around that said something to this effect: "Be kind. Everyone you see today is fighting their own battle." I think this also combined with the thoughts I mentioned to prompt this post.

      I don't share my feelings; it's just how I am. How I was raised. So, it would be an act of God for anyone to have a clue how my life was going. My point being that we sometimes also wrongfully judge people's lives as being better than they are. Often, we then judge ourselves against the lives we mistakenly believe others live.

      It's a vicious cycle. We should just give everyone the benefit of the doubt, because that attitude benefits everyone. And we should try not to assume we know anything.

      Somehow this reply turned into a whole new post. Sorry.

  2. The group I hung out with called themselves HxDxPx, or Hollywood Drunk Punks. I found this article which mentions a guy from that group, only several years after I was there: http://www.salon.com/1999/12/08/seattle_2/. Jackal sounds like some of the people I met.

  3. We have a lot more in common with third world countries than our pride would want us to believe.

    I wonder what I could do to help - that isn't just manning a soup kitchen somewhere.